The best chapter books for young kids aged seven plus to read with or without parents

Lisa Selvidge Author Of The Magic Campervan, Book 1: The Forbidden Slide
By Lisa Selvidge

Who am I?

I'm a writer and a mother. Prior to the birth of my son, I wrote mainly fiction but fiction grounded in reality. As my son grew up, I wanted to write stories for him but as soon as I had written a crocodile story, he had already outgrown it. The years seven until eleven are a magical time for reading and perhaps the age group I enjoy writing for most. As a single, older mother I found the most engaging narratives for myself and my son (who is not a reader although loves being read to) were those that were grounded in reality, particularly the setting and with challenging as well as challenged characters.


I wrote...

The Magic Campervan, Book 1: The Forbidden Slide

By Lisa Selvidge, Paula Watt (illustrator),

Book cover of The Magic Campervan, Book 1: The Forbidden Slide

What is my book about?

Merida, a special campervan made in Portugal, has arrived in England. Zoe and Vincent are close by in a park in Norwich. Zoe's avoiding her nagging mother and the school bully when she meets a strange girl who whizzes down a slide that shimmers gold, then blue, then purple. Zoe pinches the girl and buries her shoes but the girl is strangely nice to her and leads her, Vincent, and her mother to Merida where they're told they're about to go on the greatest journey of their lives.

"A flying campervan taking cheeky children on exciting and wonderful adventures…. Lisa Selvidge is a talented storyteller and The Magic Campervan is sure to find a place in the hearts of kids and parents alike!" - Richard Zimler, author of The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon 

The books I picked & why

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Five on a Treasure Island

By Enid Blyton,

Book cover of Five on a Treasure Island

Why this book?

This was the first ever book I read as a child of seven years old. I sat on my grandmother’s sofa in Leicester, bored, and I picked up this worn burgundy hardback and opened it looking for the pictures. Before I realised it I had read the first page and was turning to the next. An exciting moment. I subsequently read all the Famous Five books. I didn’t really think of reading them to my son as Enid Blyton is not greatly regarded these days. True, the world she recreates is traditional, especially for women, and it doesn’t challenge kids linguistically but it is not as outdated as I had thought. And there is the fiercely independent George (Georgina) – the girl who wants to be a boy and, of course, the wonderful Timothy (the dog).

There is treasure, adventure, George’s mad scientist father, secret tunnels, islands, castles, and naughty men, who can get quite rough. The roots of the stories are dipped in the real world rather than imaginary which also feels like a step up the reading ladder for kids. I decided to read the first one to my then eight-year-old non-reading boy. He loved it. I subsequently read all of the Famous Five books to him.

Five on a Treasure Island

By Enid Blyton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Five on a Treasure Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meet Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timothy. Together they are THE FAMOUS FIVE - Enid Blyton's most popular adventure series. All 21 titles also available as audiobooks!

'There was something else out on the sea by the rocks - something dark that seemed to lurch out of the waves . . . What could it be?'

Julian, Dick and Anne are spending the holidays with their tomboy cousin George and her dog, Timothy. One day, George takes them to explore nearby Kirrin Island, with its rocky little coast and old ruined castle on the top.

Over on the island, they…


Fantastic Mr. Fox

By Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake (illustrator),

Book cover of Fantastic Mr. Fox

Why this book?

An old-time favourite and, like Enid Blyton, a good link between picture and chapter books. It was one of my childhood favourites and one I have read to my son more than once. It is a story of the bullied overcoming the bullies and perhaps something that resonates with kids as the small foxes manage to outwit three rich men and their machines trying to dig them out. The fox characters are anthropomorphised and so outside of the ‘real’ and yet there is a strong sense of place, and although the characters of Boggis, Bunce, and Bean are exaggerated, they are recognisable and realistic.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

By Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fantastic Mr. Fox as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nobody outfoxes Fantastic Mr. Fox!

Someone's been stealing from the three meanest farmers around, and they know the identity of the thief-it's Fantastic Mr. Fox! Working alone they could never catch him; but now fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don't know is that they're not dealing with just any fox-Mr. Fox would rather die than surrender. Only the most fantastic plan can save him now.


Mac Undercover

By Mac Barnett, Mike Lowery (illustrator),

Book cover of Mac Undercover

Why this book?

These are a perfect series of stories for kids transitioning from picture to chapter books. The setting is ‘realistic’ (London and the US) and the characters involve Mac B (Kid Spy) and the Queen of England, among others. That doesn’t sound like a realistic premise but it absolutely works. The first-person narrator is the author reimagining his spy childhood in the 80s. ‘Before Mac Barnett was an author, he was a kid. And while he was a kid, he was a spy.’ The illustrations are perhaps more plentiful, which would make reading by themselves easier – although, again, I read these to my son. The writing is light, humorous with lots of historical referencing, particularly to the old USSR.

Mac Undercover

By Mac Barnett, Mike Lowery (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mac Undercover as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the esteemed New York Times bestselling and multi-award-winning
author Mac Barnett comes a thrilling, hilarious fully-illustrated
new spy adventure series!
Before Mac Barnett was an author, he was a kid. And while he was
a kid, he was a spy. Not just any spy. But a spy...for
the Queen of England.

James Bond meets Diary of a Wimpy Kid with this groundbreaking
fully-illustrated chapter book series Mac B., Kid Spy.

The precious Crown Jewels have been stolen, and there's only one
person who can help the Queen of England: her newest secret agent,
Mac B. Mac travels around the…


The Secret Garden

By Frances Hodgson Burnett, Tasha Tudor (illustrator),

Book cover of The Secret Garden

Why this book?

Published over one hundred years ago and without illustrations (at least in the Kindle edition I read), this book still caught my son’s attention. The protagonist, Mary Lennox, is a challenging child, either because of her neglected upbringing or because of genetics (I suspect she would be diagnosed with ADHD these days). Again, it is realistic and there are not so many ‘badly behaved’ children at the centre of stories. It is an omniscient narrative (as were most books at the time) but Mary’s viewpoint is well captured.

The Secret Garden

By Frances Hodgson Burnett, Tasha Tudor (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Secret Garden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a magical novel for adults and children alike

'I've stolen a garden,' she said very fast. 'It isn't mine. It isn't anybody's. Nobody wants it, nobody cares for it, nobody ever goes into it. Perhaps everything is dead in it already; I don't know.'

After losing her parents, young Mary Lennox is sent from India to live in her uncle's gloomy mansion on the wild English moors. She is lonely and has no one to play with, but one day she learns of a secret garden somewhere in the grounds that no…


The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case

By Alexander McCall Smith,

Book cover of The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case

Why this book?

Similar to the Mac B books, this is a series about a character who likes to solve crimes/mysteries, and the characters and settings are realistic. Even more wonderful is that the setting is Botswana and it gives much insight into the country and people. I was fortunate enough to be able to read this with my son while travelling with him in Botswana. Perfect.

The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case

By Alexander McCall Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great Cake Mystery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY - Young Readers

Fans around the world adore the bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the basis of the HBO TV show, and its proprietor Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective.  In this charming series, Mma  Ramotswe navigates her cases and her personal life with wisdom, and good humor—not to mention help from her loyal assistant, Grace Makutsi, and the occasional cup of tea.
 
Have you ever said to yourself, Wouldn’t it be nice to be a detective?
 
This is the story of an African girl who says just that. Her name is…


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